The late fifties and sixties saw an influx of session musicians converge on Los
Angeles. Hollywood the capitol of Americas entertainment business and it
demanded high standards and versatility. One had to switch from Jazz to rock,
surf to folk, to easy listening at a moments notice.
The chief source of income tended to be albums, which used full orchestras and
lucrative because of the amount of work included. A session musician was either
based at record studios if not contracted to record companies. Working together
on a daily basis, musicians developed a keen knowledge of each other. For instance
James Burton (Guitar and Dobro), Glen Campbell (Rhythm guitar, Pedal Steel) Leon
Russell (Keyboards) Hal Blaine (Drums) often worked on the same projects. They
became known as the elite of the Los Angeles scene.
James Burton experienced in Pop and Country worked with Dale Hawkins, Ricky
Nelson. Glen Campbell as well as a solo artist with Capitol Records, was a
Nashville session player. Leon was part of the Jerry Lee Lewis entourage whilst
Hal Blaine drummed with rockabilly band the Raiders and backed Patti Page and
Arranger and Keyboardist for Phil Spector, Jack Nitzsche, went on to join Neil Young’s group Crazy
Horse, whilst David Gates, guitar, keyboards, violin and arranger of music for Presley films (he also
wrote Saturday’s Child, for the Monkees), formed Bread with fellow West Coast session player James Griffin.
Carole Kay, a jazz-trained bass player was the only woman on the Los Angeles
circuit of session musicians and introduced by Little Richard’s manager ‘Bumps’
Blackwell. She played on everything from Beach Boys to Movies to Motown, and
described how the Beach Boys were not keen to advertise their session players.
Later on groups were proud to do so and list such people as Barney Kessel, Ry
Cooder, Gene Page, and Van Dyke Parks. The original ‘Surf’s Up’ a song by the
Beach Boys also co-written by Parks along with Brian Wilson. Gene Page
arranged Barry White’s composed track ‘I Feel Love Coming On’ for Felice
Taylor in 1967. Barney Kessel also a seasoned jazz virtuoso, and always on
Part of the famous Hollywood session players would often include Leon, Hal
Blaine and Larry Knetchel who provided the backing to the Byrd’s
‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ as well as for the Mamas and Papas and The Turtles.
Session Musicians were such a huge part of the music industry and still are.
Footnote: Gordon Lightfoot album ‘If You Could Read My Mind’
On Electric guitar John Sebastian (Lovin Spoonful)
Bottleneck guitar Ry Cooder – 17 solo albums
String Arrangements Randy Newman – 11 solo albums
Harmonium Van Dyke Parks